Effective, or Just Efficient? The key for business leaders is to focus on balancing both

    What could focusing on effectiveness do for your business? How much money could your company save if you focused on being effective? Doing the right things makes your work more efficient.

    By Tim Joiner
    Founder and CEO, 3Fold

    I’ve always been one of the busiest people I know. There are always more things on my to-do list than hours in the day, and it’s been that way since I was a teenager. I often pride myself on being “productive,” also known as being busy, overscheduled, and stressed.

    But I’ve noticed something: Some of the most successful people in the world are not always stressed. They don’t career from one activity to the next, never coming up for air. They project a sense of calm, of purpose, of direction and stability.

    They don’t fall prey to the myth of productivity, which says that you win by being the busiest, most “productive” person. Instead of focusing on doing things the right way, enormously successful people focus on doing the right things. They’re busy, for sure, but not chaotically so. And everything they do has purpose and intentionality. They’re strategic.

    So over the past few years, I’ve focused less on efficiency (though that is still important to me!) and more on effectiveness. And it’s made a huge difference in my life, both personally and professionally.

    Triggering Change

    Indirectly, effectiveness led to a pretty significant transition in our organization, as we moved from being a website company to a marketing company and now to a growth agency. In just a few years, we’ve gone from providing custom websites to engaging with clients at a strategic level, tackling business challenges and seizing opportunities far beyond websites.

    Part of that transition was recognizing a weakness in our business model. Maybe you will recognize this situation: You spend months developing a major campaign with your marketing team (could be internal or vendor). You’re excited to launch it and finally solve your cash-flow problems, get a leg up on your competitor, and feel like you have a little buffer. And then, after all that time and money, you see little to no return on your investment.

    Is it because you have a bad campaign? Maybe. But for our clients, we could track visitors coming to the website or members joining, but they just weren’t buying.

    When those situations happen, the data tell us the problem isn’t in marketing. It’s usually operational. Our client needs to improve something outside of marketing — often pricing, customer service, or sales. Our work may have been efficient, but not effective — it didn’t produce the bottom-line growth we were seeking.

    As a marketing company, those ineffective campaigns left us in a bad place. We hadn’t been engaged to improve a sales department or offer operational consulting. We also couldn’t encourage our clients to undertake time-consuming and expensive campaigns that wouldn’t deliver bottom-line results.

    Now we focus on effectiveness first. We partner with clients to establish brand goals and discuss achieving those with a wide range of tools, of which marketing is only one.

    Daily Effectiveness for Business Leaders

    What does effectiveness look like in your day-to-day life as a business leader? If you’re anything like me, your days are tightly scheduled with meetings practically atop each other from start to finish. Any breaks are filled with a task list that grows exponentially. That’s not to mention the unexpected demands from clients and employees. You’re so busy keeping your head above water that you can hardly remember what day it is, much less reflect or plan ahead.

    In my early days of leading 3Fold, I spent tremendous energy keeping my head above water efficiently. I focused on systems for email, for task management, for running meetings better. I obsessively tracked the best routes around town so I could shave off a few minutes every day.

    But I never caught up.

    Now, I schedule time nearly every week to spend away from the office with a notepad. If I’m lucky, I get several hours at a time; sometimes it’s less.

    As a business owner, it is probably the most effective thing I do, but conversely it is probably the least efficient thing I do. Taking time away from that “must-do” task list on my desk is not easy. I feel selfish about it. I feel like I am letting people down.

    And I feel like it must be done.

    When I brainstorm away from the near constant buzz of a marketing firm, I make my company better. In those times, I recognize the destructive patterns in my business, the misalignments. In that inefficient time, I recognized the need to transition 3Fold beyond the marketing space. My return on investment (ROI) from being effective has been enormous.

    What could focusing on effectiveness do for your business? How much money could your company save if you focused on being effective? Doing the right things makes your work more efficient. To get to that efficiency, you have to be willing to give up your precious time. Dedicating time for doing the right things is radical, a stark departure from our overscheduled calendars. But it’s the best thing you’ll do this year.


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